"Any allergies to medication? And this is your...?" I ask so openly, because I prefer to let people define their own roles and relationships.
The two women are in their forties, comfortable in their relationship, undefensive. I assure the partner that we will take good care of her. And I miss the Massachusetts laws, where they most likely would have referred to each other as wife. Such a clear term, unambiguous in a hospital setting. The first time I heard it used in Boston it took me a moment's adjustment, then the sense of rightness settled in for good.
I always remember my four hours waiting for D's first elbow surgery, an eternity of worry, talking myself down. The loved one waiting is always in my mind for any procedure over an hour. That hour has to be toughed out, after that, we all need encouragement. I had other staff, as I couldn't stand the family waiting room full of wriggly kids and noise. So I sat in mufti in the staff lounge, familiar, eating too many oreos, near the phone.
Being the wife made that easier. No question about my role, my rights, considerations given. A damn convenient label in official circumstances.
Wife was never an aspiration for me, never a term of affection. I never refer to D as my husband around those I know personally, nor does he call me wife. We've never been pet-namers or pigeon-holers, especially not with each other. We don't honey nor dear each other, either. Never referred to each other as girlfriend/boyfriend when we were not married, mostly because neither of us saw ourselves as 'boy' or 'girl' past the age of, well, dunno. Maybe 15, less? One of the perks of legal marriage, we didn't have to fish for a term for ourselves when dealing with relative strangers or officialdom.
The marital terms do ease social communication. I had to call him at work today, and he does not have his own phone in the department, since his job doesn't involve making calls (I'm so envious.) So I called, after practicing the phrase, "May I speak to D(...) W(...) this's his wife." Ambiguity is fine in it's place, not when calling to a place of work.
English needs better words for social relationships. Spouse is good, but a bit hard to say and hear properly. We have to go to French for fiance. Leman is a sadly abandoned term for a sweetheart which I rather like. Lover is a tad graphic, and partner too business related. The language lags behind the reality.